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May 10, 2021 - Updated on May 17, 2021

RSF denounces Total’s retaliation against Le Monde for Myanmar story

This file photograph taken on October 22, 2018, shows the logo of the French energy giant Total on its headquarters in the La Defense business district near Paris. French energy giant Total pulled adverts from Le Monde after it reported that the company was paying gas revenues to Myanmar's military through a tax haven (photo : Alain Jocard / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns French oil giant Total’s cancellation of a big ad campaign in the French daily Le Monde in reprisal for a story about Total’s funding of Myanmar’s military. The extremely shocking cynicism of this decision matches the hypocrisy with which Total has handled its operations in Myanmar since last February’s coup, RSF says.

Total’s decision to cancel the 50,000-euro ad campaign planned for June was taken on 6 May, two days after Le Monde published an investigative piece about the French multinational’s dealings with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a consortium directly managed by Myanmar’s armed forces.

 

The story revealed that Total, which has been exploiting Myanmar’s Yadana offshore gas field since 1992, has always used complex financial mechanisms that allow MOGE – and therefore Myanmar’s generals – to retain hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on gas sales that should have gone to the Myanmar state in the form of taxes.

 

“Total’s cancellation of its ad campaign in Le Monde is a crude reprisal against a media outlet that simply published annoying truths,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “It sheds even more light on the level of cynicism with which the energy group is trying to handle its Myanmar operations. It is high time for Total to match actions to words by suspending its activities in Myanmar and thereby ceasing to fund the junta and its relentless crackdown on press freedom in that country.”  

 

In an op-ed piece in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on 3 April, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné wrote that, “respect for human rights is at the heart of our code of conduct.” He said Total’s continuing operations in Myanmar were justified by its dual duty to pay taxes to the Myanmar state and to protect its employees there.

 

The first argument has been dashed by the revelations about a tax optimization system that allows Total to avoid paying what it should to the Myanmar state while pouring millions into offshore accounts held by the military. According to RSF’s tally, nearly 175 million dollars were paid to MOGE in 2019.

 

In March, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the now-in-exile government resulting from the November 2020 elections, wrote to four energy multinationals including Total  urging them to suspend all operations involving Myanmar’ military and to freeze all payments to them.

 

Forced to resign

 

The second argument offered by Total’s management, the need to protect its employees, has been demolished by some of its own employees in Myanmar.

 

A Total employee in Myanmar told the Myanmar Now website last month that a fellow employee was forced to resign after requesting unpaid leave in connection with the pro-democracy movement. Ninety percent of Total’s employees in Myanmar are Myanmar citizens and the threat of similarly being forced to resign discourages them in practice from participating in the anti-coup civil disobedience movement.

 

Total is one of the 15 western and Asian multinationals operating in Myanmar to whom RSF began writing letters on 8 April urging them to take a stand against the junta’s oppressive behaviour.

 

According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association For Political Prisoners (AAPP), whose figures have been independently confirmed by an RSF source, a total of 84 journalists have been arrested since the coup d’état on 1 February, and around 50 of them are still being held.

 

Myanmar is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.